by Korey Hope
The Whitworth men’s basketball team advanced to the second round of the NCAA Division III tournament on Saturday, beating the University of Redlands 75-69 in a closely contested first round game in the Fieldhouse. Senior guard Wade Gebbers and junior guard Colton McCargar each had 21 points in the victory, and two other Pirates finished in double figures. The Pirates will host Emory University from Atlanta, Ga. in the second round on March 9 in the Fieldhouse.
“What a great environment to play in, and the NCAA tournament is all about finding ways to advance and we did that tonight,” head coach Matt Logie said.
After defeating Whitman last weekend in the Northwest Conference title game, Whitworth jumped from 8th to 6th in the national rankings heading into the NCAA Tournament.
The Bulldogs used the same defensive pressure against Whitworth on Saturday, and forced seven turnovers in the first period while keeping the Pirates well under their season averages from the field and beyond the arc. Aided by 12 points from junior forward Alex Rudd off the bench in the first half, the Bulldogs closed out the half on a 14-2 run to lead 41-35 at the break.
But the Pirates would claw their way back after halftime. After Bulldog junior guard Ricky Peetz hit a three-point bucket to give Redlands a 10-point lead with more than 13 minutes to play, the Bucs got hot, fast. Whitworth stormed back with a 19-2 run, sparked by junior guard Colton McCargar sinking a deep three and followed by consecutive three-point baskets from junior guard Dustin McConnell and senior guard Wade Gebbers.
“As a basketball player and a shooter, that’s one of the best feelings I could ever have,” McCargar said. “And we have had great support from the students all year.”
The Bulldogs kept the game close throughout, and found themselves down only three with a minute and a half to play. After freshman forward George Valle drove to the hoop for the Bucs and missed, junior guard/forward Eric Radford secured the rebound for the Bulldogs, and they now had the ball in a one possession game, still very much alive.
But when Radford lifted up his head to find a pass, McCargar snuck right in behind Radford for the steal, giving possession back to the Pirates. And in that possession, McCargar hit a jumper from around the free-throw line to put the Pirates up five with only 55 seconds to play. With solid free-throw shooting, the Bucs hung on for the 75-69 victory.
“Redlands was a tough matchup,” McCargar said. “But that really benefits us and helps us to be better prepared in the future.”
As they say, it’s a game of two halves, and the second could not have been more of an opposite to the first. The Pirates improved their shooting from the field, and hit 50 percent of their three-point attempts in the second half. They also took better care of the ball, registering only three turnovers in the second period while forcing seven from the Bulldogs. Redlands did the opposite; they went from 50 percent shooting from beyond the arc in the first half to 23.1 percent in the second half. Rudd cooled off as well, failing to hit a three-point basket and only registering two points after halftime.
“I’m really proud of our guys for battling back, especially in the second half,” Logie said. “I thought our guys really stepped up when their backs were against the wall.”
For Redlands, it was only the program’s second NCAA Tournament appearance since 1985. The other came just two years ago, when the Bulldogs fell to Chapman University in the first round.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our group of guys,” Redlands head coach Jim Ducey said. “They were a fun group to work with.”
As for the Pirates, they will look to ride this wave of momentum heading into the second round of the national tournament.
“The fact that we were able to come from behind in this game only helps our confidence going forward,” McConnell said.
Whitworth will host Emory University (20-6) from Georgia in the second round of the NCAA Tournament this Saturday, March 9 at 7 p.m. in the Fieldhouse.
Contact Korey Hope at email@example.com